Assembly speaker wants to defund DEI

The Divine Nine Garden Plaza was created by the local chapter of the National Pan Hellenic Council with the support of several DEI professionals at UW-Madison.

Republican state lawmakers could cut funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs at University of Wisconsin System institutions.

Today, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he hopes the Joint Committee on Finance (JCF) cuts tens of millions from the University of Wisconsin System to defund diversity, equity and inclusion programs. 

The JCF was in session much of Tuesday, and at the time of publication had not yet voted on the changes it wants to make to Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed budget.

Tensions between the university system and Republican Legislators have been on the rise with the recent refusal to fund Madison campus’ new engineering facility in the capital budget. The GOP-controlled Legislature has now turned its eye to diversity and inclusion initiatives for this round of proposed cuts.

Vos said ahead of Tuesday’s JCF meeting that he wants to cut all funding from the UW system that would be used for diversity initiatives. He estimates cuts would total $32 million, AP reports.

“I hope we have the ability to eliminate that spending. The university should have already chosen to redirect it to something that is more productive and more broadly supported,” Vos told the AP.

Vos’s comments come a little over a month after a racist social media video shook the UW-Madison campus, requiring a number of DEI professionals to work with students and staff to respond and create a safe environment.

UW System spokesman Mark Pitsch told the AP that salaries for DEI professionals throughout the system total about $15.5 million. He declined a Madison365 request to respond to Vos’s comments, opting instead to wait to see what specific proposal comes out of the committee.

Vos has been vocal about his opinions in the past on diversity offices on campuses. He calls them a waste of taxpayer money and claims they further racial divides.

Every UW system school has a chief diversity officer to support both students and employees from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds, including racial and ethnic minorities, marginalized gender identities, and LGBTQ+ people.

Governor Tony Evers responded to the proposed cuts this afternoon.

“Make no mistake, Speaker Vos and Republicans’ short-sighted move to gut our UW System by tens of millions of dollars is about one thing—Republicans’ decade-long war on higher education institutions in our state,” Gov. Evers said in a press release. “These cuts will be disastrous for our UW System, almost certainly causing cuts to campuses and critical programs statewide, and will only hurt our kids, our state’s economy, and our state’s workforce in the process.”

Democratic Representative Francesca Hong responded to the budgetary cuts to voice her concern.

“I am deeply concerned to learn of the intended cuts to the UW System. This harmful disinvestment will have widespread impact and longstanding repercussions for our workforce, economic growth and the cultural vitality of Wisconsin. The continued weaponizing of DEI is deeply disturbing and a disservice to all of our communities,” Rep. Hong said in a written statement provided to Blueprint365.

Rumors of possible cuts to diversity and inclusion initiatives have been circulating around UW schools for the past month. Dr. Sami Schalk, a professor of women’s studies at UW-Madison, is worried about the outward effect for students of color, queer and trans students across the university system.

“This will do the most harm to students of color and queer and trans students on campuses other than UW-Madison. I would say the GOP should be ashamed but that seems like something Vos is clearly incapable of feeling,” Schalk said in a message to Blueprint365. Shalk said she believed UW-Madison could find alternative sources of funding for DEI resources but other campuses likely couldn’t.

Hong chief of staff Nada Elmikashfi said the JCF could eliminate or defund specific positions and programs, or could simply reduce the overall allocation to the UW System.

Representatives of UW system schools said they would comment after the JCF votes on a specific budget proposal.

Robert Chappell contributed to this report. This is a developing story and will be updated.